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A bowl of shrimp stir-fry.

If I could only pick one nutrition habit that I’ve found to be most impactful when it comes to improving clients’ health and body composition, it would have to be increasing their protein intake at mealtime.

I can’t think of one other recommendation that creates as much of a positive focus on eating healthy (that is, focusing on what to increase versus what to take away) while netting as many health benefits, including stabilizing blood sugar, energy, and hunger, and supporting lean tissue and muscle growth.

Ensuring you’re getting enough protein at each meal doesn’t have to be difficult. With clients, I simply have them make an effort to plate each meal with a palm-size serving of meat and/or other high-protein food (two palm sizes for men, usually), while filling up the rest of their plate with other critical high-nutrient foods, such as vegetables and healthy fats (often used to flavor the vegetables).

Once clients can visualize what an ideal plate looks like, it helps them to create healthy meals at home or navigate choices while dining out.

But what I’ve also found is sometimes the simplicity of it nets less-than-stellar menu ideation — you can only make a grilled chicken breast with broccoli so many times.

These five high-protein meals are not only delicious, easy to make, and follow said formula, but they’re also super adaptable: They allow for easy substitutions within the same food groups and are all kid friendly.

1. Homemade Sloppy Joes

Even if you love the sloppy joe sauce that comes out of a can, once you make homemade version you’ll never go back. It’s easy, tasty, and usable with any type of ground meat you choose. This recipe has a regular spot on the meal plan in my house and my kids literally gobble it up. Plus, you can double the recipe for some make-ahead lunches to use now or freeze for later.

The sloppy joe pictured here is paired with my favorite cruciferous vegetable: Brussels sprouts. Some other amazing ways to eat it are to top the mixture over your favorite green salad mix or a roasted sweet potato; eat it on a toasted bun (Udi’s gluten-free option is yummy) alongside your favorite slaw; or use it as a dip with some cut up vegetables (kale chips or cucumber slices are really good).

A plate of sloppy joes mix and Brussels sprouts.

Makes four servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes


  • 1 tbs. grass-fed butter or coconut oil
  • 1 lb. grass-fed beef (or other preferred ground meat)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (low sugar)
  • 1 tbs. mustard
  • 1 tbs. 100 percent cacao powder
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 3/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder


  1. Add the butter or coconut oil to a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Brown the beef and break it apart into crumbles as it cooks, about five to 10 minutes. Drain the liquid from the skillet.
  2. In a bowl, combined all other ingredients and mix into a sauce.
  3. Add the sauce to the skillet and combine until the beef is evenly coated and the sauce is heated through.

Nutritional Info | Calories: 320 | Protein: 30 | Fat: 19 | Carbs: 5

2. Fried Coconut Chicken

Not too long ago, I came across a pan-fried chicken recipe and it completely inspired me to make my own gluten-free version. It quickly became a family favorite and has since made its way back into our meal rotation every summer.

Three fried coconut chicken tenders with a dipping sauce.

Makes three servings
Prep time: 
5 minutes
Cook time: 12 minutes


  • 1/2 cup gluten-free panko
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes, unsweetened
  • 1 pasture-raised egg
  • 1 lb. chicken thighs, tenderized
  • 1 tbs. coconut oil


  1. Combine the gluten-free panko and coconut flakes in a bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg.
  3. With a fork or tongs, dip the chicken in the egg, making sure to evenly coat the chicken thigh and let any excess egg drip off.
  4. Transfer the chicken to the panko mixture and evenly coat before transferring to a clean plate. Repeat this process with each chicken thigh.
  5. Once all chicken has been coated, heat the coconut oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
  6. Transfer the chicken to the skillet and let it cook until its cooked through (internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit) and golden brown on each side, about four to six minutes per side
  7. Cool before serving.

Nutritional Info | Calories: 336 | Protein: 28 | Fat: 16 | Carbs: 19

3. Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Strips

This is the most popular recipe in my Lean + Tone program — and for good reason. You can season your chicken however you typically enjoy, but I’ve found when you combine this lean meat with bacon, you rarely have to add any additional flavors.

Kiddos also love this recipe because it’s a finger food that’s easy to dunk in a little dressing if preferred. I most often serve this with a broccoli slaw, but pairing with your favorite roasted root vegetables or some steamed peppers also make for awesome combinations.

Three bacon-wrapped chicken tenders.

Makes four servings
Prep time: 
10 minutes
Cook time: 22 minutes


  • 1 lb. (or 4 total) chicken breast
  • 6 strips of nitrate-free bacon, sliced lengthwise


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut each chicken breast into three strips lengthwise and wrap each with a strip of bacon.
  3. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 17 to 22 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

Nutritional Info | Calories 185 | Protein 30 | Carbs 1 | Fat 6

4. Tuna Boats

A great way to diversity the high-protein foods in your diet is to make sure you’re getting in a few fish sources each week. Tuna is known to be less “fishy” tasting than other options, and its shelf stability makes it a go-to food to always have stocked in my pantry.

The celery in this recipe adds a nice crunch and texture, but if you’re not a fan, you can easily omit it. By serving the tuna salad in these “boats” it makes for an easy way to get in vegetables for both kids and picky adults. However, I often make this recipe and omit the boats completely, opting for a handful of fresh cut veggies or some almond crackers to dunk in the tuna instead.

Three sliced cucumbers topped with tuna salad.

Makes two servings
Prep time: 
10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes


  • Two chilled 5 oz. cans of tuna (BPA-free lining), drained
  • 1/3 cup avocado-oil based mayonnaise
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, minced
  • 1/4 cup parsley, minced
  • 2 tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. celery salt
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • Paprika to taste
  • 1 5 oz. container butter lettuce


  1. Mix all of the ingredients except for the butter lettuce together.
  2. Serve chilled scooped into butter lettuce leaves or with other veggie of choice, such as cucumbers.

Nutritional Info | Calories: 611 | Protein: 41 | Fat: 44 | Carbs: 6

Shrimp Stir-Fry

Another great fish option to include in your rotation, shrimp is a good staple to keep on hand in your freezer. I like this recipe because it often serves as an introduction to coconut aminos for my clients, with it then becoming a must-have condiment for them. Overall, the meal is light, yet it is extremely filling — and kids love the baby corn and crunch of the water chestnuts.

Bowl of shrimp stir-fried with red peppers, snap peas, and baby corn.

Makes four servings
Prep time:
20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes


  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbs. honey
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1/2 cup carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 12-ounce can baby corn, drained
  • 1/2 8-ounce can water chestnuts
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms
  • 1 cup fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas


  1. In a medium saucepan, bring one cup of water to a boil. Stir in the rice and salt.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and allow the water to simmer. Cover and cook the rice until the water is absorbed — about 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. While the rice is cooking, in a small bowl, whisk together the coconut aminos, garlic, honey, sesame oil, and lime juice. Add the shrimp and marinate for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. In a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat, add the peppers, onions, carrots, baby corn, water chestnuts, and mushrooms. Pour the shrimp and sauce on top. Cook for about two to three minutes, or until the shrimp is pink.
  5. Add the broccoli and sugar snap peas. Stir until incorporated. Cover and cook for three to five minutes, or until the broccoli is tender.
  6. Serve over the cooked rice.

Nutritional Info | Calories: 320 | Protein: 24 | Fat: 7 | Carbs: 38

How to Save Time on Meal Prep

Buying precut or pre-cubed foods is a simple timesaver. We most often think of this with fresh or frozen vegetables, however, most grocery stores also have precut protein options available. Variety for these is more limited, and you might sacrifice certain quality factors (e.g. organic, grass-fed, etc.), but it’s a good place to start until you’ve worked extra kitchen time into your schedule.

Another efficiency tip: Spend an hour or two on the weekends prepping meals for the following week. Cut raw vegetables, cook all your protein, or batch cook a recipe for multiple meals — it’ll save you time during the rest of your week.

Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Health Facebook group.

Anika Christ, RD, CPT

Anika Christ is a registered dietitian, personal trainer, and the senior director of nutrition and weight loss at Life Time. She’s known to many as “Coach Anika,” and is one of the original virtual coaches who continues to lead a number of digital programs each year. She started at Life Time in 2008 and has spent her entire career helping build Life Time’s nutrition and fat-loss programs. When she’s not at work, she enjoys reading, lifting weights with her husband, and playing with her two daughters.

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